Unlocking Digital Accessibility Through Collaboration
In an increasingly digital world, accessibility to online resources is not just a convenience; it’s more like a right. It's imperative that everyone, regardless of their abilities or disabilities, can access and use digital content easily. However, digital accessibility remains a challenging and evolving issue. Much of the internet was not initially designed with accessibility in mind, and while progress is being made, significant barriers still exist.
This article primarily focuses on a novel and effective approach to addressing digital accessibility. It discusses a collaborative pilot between Sight Matters, a charity that supports blind and visually impaired people to lead inclusive, independent lives and SQR, a digital identity and eKYC solutions provider that is committed to inclusion for all. In it, we assess the pilot itself and delve into the broader role that collaboration can play in enhancing digital accessibility and creating a more inclusive online space.
Understanding Digital Accessibility
Digital accessibility, at its core, is the practice of designing and developing digital content and tools in a way that ensures equal access for all individuals, including those with disabilities. This encompasses websites, applications, documents, and online services. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), established by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), serve as the global standard for making web content more accessible. They outline a range of criteria that, when implemented, provide a better user experience for people with disabilities.
It's crucial to emphasise that accessibility is not solely about addressing visual impairments. While this is a significant aspect, it extends to individuals with hearing impairments, motor disabilities, cognitive impairments, and more. Providing equal access to all these groups is of paramount importance, both from a moral and an economic perspective.
Despite the growing awareness of digital accessibility's importance, it remains a significant challenge. The digital landscape is in a constant state of evolution, and keeping up with accessibility standards can be daunting for many organisations, particularly those with large legacy websites and start-ups, where agility and efficiency are key (as opposed to taking on huge box-ticking exercises).
Piloting A New Approach
The core of this article is to highlight the transformative potential of collaboration in addressing digital accessibility. Rather than focusing on the broad concept of digital accessibility, this approach hones in on practical, real-world solutions.
The pilot scheme partnership between Sight Matters <www.sightmatters.im> and SQR <www.sqr-group.com> was designed to identify real-life pain points and catastrophic usability issues so that design changes can be targeted, effective, and meaningful.
The pilot project was borne out of a fortuitous encounter between a Sight Matters service member and SQR representatives at the Isle of Man FinTech Innovation Challenge. Following this chance meeting at the global competition spearheaded by the Isle of Man Government., which SQR went on to win, team members from the digital identity start-up reached out to Sight Matters to explore ways they could collaborate to enhance the digital accessibility of their product.
The solution arrived at turned out to be both incredibly empowering and efficient. In short, a series of focus groups were initiated, in which blind and visually impaired users attempted to sign up to SQR's app, with any issues they encountered being recorded and relayed back to the company. This approach puts those with disabilities directly in contact with an evolving company, allowing them to have their experiences heard first-hand. It’s also incredibly efficient, providing SQR access to a niche, expert audience capable of finding design issues that may not be captured by a more formal (and formulaic) approach.
The results from this pilot project have been incredibly promising, emphasising the effectiveness and potential of this and similar approaches. In fact, the pilot allowed SQR Group to:
Enact User-Centred Design: Digital accessibility is not just about meeting compliance standards; it's about creating user-centred solutions. These focus groups allowed SQR Group to directly engage with a specific target audience and design with them in mind.
Benefit from Real-World Testing: While automated testing tools are essential, they can't replicate the full user experience. The focus groups provided real-world and real-time testing and feedback that identified issues that automated tools might miss.
Identify Pain Points: Focus groups uncovered specific challenges that individuals with disabilities faced when using SQR Group’s app. These insights will lead to targeted improvements and a better user experience.
Move Beyond Compliance: Going beyond mere compliance, focus groups can help organisations create a more inclusive online environment that goes the extra mile in meeting the diverse needs of users.
In essence, the Sight Matters and SQR digital accessibility pilot project exemplifies how collaboration and a user-centred approach can lead to more inclusive, efficient, and empowering digital experiences – and that this is achievable via community collaboration. The project is still in progress, but the early results provide a strong case for the benefits of such an approach. With the focus on agility and efficiency, this approach to digital accessibility holds promise in making the digital world more inclusive for all.
The Broader Impact of Collaboration
Enhancing digital accessibility through collaboration between the private- and third-sectors has a far-reaching impact. It doesn't just benefit the participants but also the digital landscape and society as a whole. Here are a few reasons why we’d encourage other organisations to adopt a similar collaborative approach:
Economic Impact: Businesses that actively engage those with disabilities in their local communities open up their products and services to a more extensive and diverse customer base. This can lead to increased revenue and market reach. Additionally, it fosters innovation, as designing with accessibility in mind often leads to creative solutions that benefit all users.
Social Inclusion: Access to digital resources is an integral part of modern life. Making online content and services accessible ensures that individuals with disabilities can fully participate in society.
Legal Compliance: Many countries have enacted legislation mandating digital accessibility, and non-compliance can lead to legal consequences. Collaboration can lead to a more proactive approach to ensure compliance and mitigate legal risks.
Innovation and User-centred Design: Collaboration encourages innovation. When businesses engage with individuals with disabilities to improve their digital products, they create user-centred solutions that can set them apart in the market
The Path Forward
In a world where the digital landscape is constantly evolving, the need for accessible online resources is more significant than ever. Collaboration between businesses, governments and third-sector organisations presents a practical and efficient approach to enhancing digital accessibility, making it a reality for all. It is an approach that not only promotes inclusion but also spurs innovation, ultimately benefiting businesses and society. Collaboration is not just a path forward; is a leap towards a more inclusive digital world.